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County to consider Air Center talks now


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Chaves County elected officials plan to vote on whether to approve formal discussions with the city about establishing an airport authority to oversee the Roswell Air Center.

A resolution about the issue is due to be considered along with other matters by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners during its 9 a.m. Thursday meeting at the Chaves County Administrative Center, 1 St. Mary’s Place.

On July 9, the Roswell City Council voted 8-2 to approve a similar resolution.

City Councilors discussed the issue for more than an hour. Several councilors sought reassurance that the resolution did not establish the authority at this time. City Manager Joe Neeb stressed that the resolution only authorizes discussions about establishing such an entity, with conclusions or possible changes to city code presented to city councilors in February 2021.

If the county approves its resolution Thursday, the discussions are expected to occur among the city manager and County Manager Stanton Riggs, other city and county staff, and a citizens’ group that will be formed.

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The county already has passed two resolutions supporting an authority. Those preceded the efforts to have enabling legislation passed.

Riggs also has expressed his support for formal talks, saying the county has a lot to bring to the table.

“It is something that we have been wanting to do for a while,” he said, “and we are more than happy to work with them.”

The Regional Air Center Special Economic District Act was signed into law in February 2019. Local business leaders and state legislators had worked for a couple of years to get it passed. Both chambers of the New Mexico Legislature passed a bill in 2018, but then-Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed it. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a revised bill a year later.

Part of the argument for the legislation were two economic feasibility studies in 1998 and 2017 that had recommended a new management system for the airport and its related properties. It was seen as a way to boost business development and jobs.

Since 1967 and the closure of the Walker Air Force Base, the former military base and surrounding parcels and buildings have been owned and managed by the city. But some business and government leaders have thought that it could be a much more powerful economic force in the city, especially if its management did not have to act at the behest of just one political body.

But not everyone agrees with the need for a separate governing mechanism, and some doubt its feasibility for a number of reasons, including that the Air Center is not financially self-sufficient and receives about $1 million a year in general fund monies from the city.

The financial issue is one addressed in a “separation report” the city prepared after the legislation was signed into law. The county and city managers are expected to consider that issue and others now.

Some of the other unresolved matters include the need to obtain Federal Aviation Administration and state approval for a change of ownership of assets, questions about water usage and ownership rights, and determinations about how the Air Center would be served by police, fire, financial and administrative services, and building and road maintenance crews, all of which are now provided by the city.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.


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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.